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MARTIN CARTHY & DAVE SWARBRICK - Walnut Creek: Live Recordings 1989-1996

MARTIN CARTHY & DAVE SWARBRICK - Walnut Creek: Live Recordings 1989-1996
Fellside Recordings  FECD243

It seems odd to be astonished by a CD from an institution. After all, I had a hunch it was going to be good, but that’s exactly what this album is - astonishing. 

The album has a cross-section of the pair’s collaborations over three decades, going right back to Broomfield Hill from Carthy’s debut album, which sounds just as fresh as it did in 1965. With such beautiful mandolin playing from Swarb, it’s easy to miss how well Carthy is singing.

The ornaments in Swarb’s fiddle playing on Arthur McBride have to be heard to be believed. Well worth putting up with the slight distortion in Carthy’s voice. And that’s I think the key to why these performances are so special. Because they were not particularly intended for publication, they have that edge that live performance always has, particularly by such accomplished performers as these.

They are both very physical performers, particularly live. Listen to Ship In Distress - just fiddle and voice. Swarb briefly plays with unusual warmth, but quickly brings in that muscular attack. And you can hear Carthy’s percussive guitar style in his voice. Like I said, astonishing.

Though songs predominate, there are an interesting couple of sets of tunes as well as the delightful Porcupine Rag, complete with false starts. Carthy says “I’ll see you at the end” and their excitement is palpable as they play the tune, totally together all the way.

Chosen from Dave Swarbrick’s personal archive, the CD provides a glimpse of their playing in the first half of the 90s. I hope there’s more to come.

Graham Gurrin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.